Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Grace O'Malley: The Pirate Queen

Turbulent Times

Life in 16th century Ireland was one of hardships, rebellions and social and political upheavals. The country was still a tribal society with independent chieftains ruling 60 counties under ancient traditions and laws. These local chieftains were often in conflict with each other to gain power and maintain control of land.

King Henry VIII
King Henry VIII

English assimilation and dominance of the Irish increased under the rule of King Henry VIII. The King was determined to strengthen his hold on Ireland to ensure that the colony would not be vulnerable to foreign attack.  His reformation policy of "Submit and Regrant" offered the Irish chieftains English titles and the lawful right to keep their lands and wealth if they surrendered to English rule and swore allegiance to the Crown. Centering in Dublin, the enforcement of this policy began to spread toward the western coast of Ireland to County Mayo.

Map of Ireland Showing County Mayo
Map of Ireland Showing County Mayo

Far away from Dublin, the rugged west coast of Ireland was slow to conform to English rule. The Gaelic chieftains maintained much of their culture without interference because the English rarely ventured into what was essentially uncharted land. This Gaelic independence was firmly entrenched in the O'Malleys.

The O'Malleys were a famous seafaring clan since the 12th century. Their fleet of ships traded goods between the West Coast of Ireland and Spain and Portugal. They were known for the sailing prowess and were experienced enough to avoid the ever-present risks of the dangerous weather that can suddenly take over the seas off the Irish coast and the even more dangerous pirates that lay in wait in the sheltered coves and inlets. The O'Malleys had ruled the lands around Clew Bay in County Mayo for centuries and became, for awhile at least, independent from their English masters.

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